Summary and book reviews of Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Wizard of the Crow

A Novel

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o X
Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 784 pages
    Aug 2007, 784 pages

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Book Summary

From the exiled Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet, and literary critic--a magisterial comic novel that is certain to take its place as a landmark of postcolonial African literature.

In exile now for more than twenty years, Ngugi wa Thiong’o has become one of the most widely read African writers of our time, the power and scope of his work garnering him international attention and praise. His aim in Wizard of the Crow is, in his own words, nothing less than “to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history.”

Commencing in “our times” and set in the “Free Republic of Aburiria,” the novel dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburlrian people. Among the contenders: His High Mighty Excellency; the eponymous Wizard, an avatar of folklore and wisdom; the corrupt Christian Ministry; and the nefarious Global Bank. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, Wizard of the Crow reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity.

Informed by richly enigmatic traditional African storytelling, Wizard of the Crow is a masterpiece, the crowning achievement in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s career thus far.


There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people's lips were five.

The illness, so claimed the first, was born of anger that once welled up inside him; and he was so conscious of the danger it posed to his well-being that he tried all he could to rid himself of it by belching after every meal, sometimes counting from one to ten, and other times chanting ka ke ki ko ku aloud. Why these particular syllables, nobody could tell. Still, they conceded that the Ruler had a point. Just as offensive gases of the constipated need to be expelled, thus easing the burden on the tummy, anger in a person also needs a way out to ease the burden on the heart. This Ruler's anger, however, would not go away, and it continued simmering inside till it consumed his heart. This is believed to be the source of the Aburirian saying that ire is more corrosive than fire, for it once ...

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BookBrowse Review


Wizard is a vast, sprawling, satirical allegory, written in 6 parts, which is already being considered by many to be Ngugi wa Thiong'o's magnus opus. Some reviewers feel that it is overly long and repetitious and a tad didactic, but that is perhaps to lose sight of the fact that it wasn't written in a Western language or, in the first instance, for a Western audience, but for a Kenyan audience still familiar with the oral tradition - in Kenya his works are often read aloud over a period of (many!) days.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review (786 words).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle - David Hellman
Wizard of the Crow may improve his status, but only for those willing to wrestle with its incredibly demanding text. Nevertheless, the novel has many rewards for those willing to face its challenges .... The novel is full of moments that are entirely predictable and others that appear to pop out of nowhere. From an ingrained Western perspective this could be annoying, which could lead to this novel not receiving the recognition it deserves. But to enjoy this book readers should first abandon any expectations they may have of literature and just surrender themselves to the story.

The New York Times Book Review - Jeff Turrentine
Ngugi writes simply and unaffectedly about his characters and the cartoonish trouble in which they land. It’s hard to think of another recent novel so heavily steeped in oral traditions; at the level of language and cadence it recalls a long yarn told by firelight. Strange, then, that Wizard of the Crow should lack the distilled smoothness of a story passed down over many generations." -

The New Yorker - John Updike
Such readers would do well to remember that it is a translation from a language whose narrative traditions are mostly oral and heavy on performance; the tale is fantastic and didactic, told in broad strokes of caricature ..... The author of this bulky book offers more indignation than analysis in his portrait of postcolonial Africa ..... (S)even hundred and sixty-six pages of fiction too aggrieved and grim to be called satire .... The narrative, then, is a journey without a destination, and its characters are improv artists. This ambitious, long-mulled attempt to sustain the spell of oral narrative in an era of electro-visual distractions leaves the Wizard where the reader finds him, up in the air.

The Washington Post - Aminatta Forna
A great, spellbinding tale, probably the crowning glory of Ngugi's life's work.

The Economist
Funny if messy. ... Aburiria is recognisable as Africa in all its splendour, squalor, economic malaise and venality, but it comes with more than a touch of magical realism .... Despite the book's faults, it is hard not to be cheered by the spirit of gentle resistance that is at its core, in defiance of everyday greed.

The Guardian - Maya Jaggi
Yet for all its grotesque hyperbole, Wizard of the Crow struck me as truthful in its dissection of power, and remarkably free of bitterness. At more than 700 pages, its flaws, of obsessive reiteration and prolixity, arise partly from its bold experimentation with oral forms, and from giving rein to the pathologies of the corrupt at the expense of the more intimate dilemmas of those who challenge them. But the poisonousness of its targets never infects the author's vision, nor his faith in people's power to resist. Perhaps that in itself is a triumph.

Times (London) Literary Supplement - Andrew van der Vlies
By turns witty and wise, beguiling and exasperating, this is Ngugi's most barbed (even bitter) satire on the betrayal of independence by corrupt governments in neo-colonial Africa.

The Scotsman - Tom Adair
At best the prose is limber. At worst it is lax. But there is method in his laxity. He mimics the oral storytelling of his continent. The eye of the story is restless, it darts and backtracks, it brims with wise sayings ....This is a book about choosing sides. A book above all about the individual's responses to moral dilemmas .... It's a book of wonderful purple phases (the greatest lyrical description of making love I have ever read, a marvellous evocation of wilderness), but at almost 800 pages it should be serialised for consumption, not swallowed whole.

Library Journal
Folkloric in sweep and satirical in tone, this hefty novel can be challenging for those lacking a taste for allegory or unfamiliar with modern African politics.

Kirkus Reviews
A remarkable book, sure to be widely read. Suffice it to say that things don't turn out as the dictator - or we - expected.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review....a sometimes lurid, sometimes lyrical reflection on Africa's dysfunctions—and possibilities.

Reader Reviews

Ugwuja, Amaechi Alex

Ngugi has clearly shown in this breath-taking piece that he is not only a master in creative writing but undeniably an Africa ideologue. in treating despotism with a tinge of good humor, he shows that literature must instruct and entertain.

Dr. C. Channappa

Modern Epic
Wizard of the Crow is a modern epic. Ngugi combines traditional values and modern confrontations very strongly. The merit lies in his use of oratory. The novel shows his wide knowledge of Indian epics such as the Ramayana and medicines. Read once ...   Read More

Dominic J Kanaventi

The Wizard of the Crow - The Music of African Oral Art.
Ngugi has done those of us who might not not understand the rich African culture of oral story-telling a big favor by putting pen to paper and telling this wonderful story. If only the wonderful fellow reviewers who contribute to this column ...   Read More

mbone muks

feminist pespective
Ngugi Wa Thiongo's Wizard of the crow provides a stunning portrayal of the feminine quest. It presents the woman as a very powerful and extremely determined person. Judging from my reading of this text, the woman is the pivot of the book. If she is...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (pronounced GU-gi wa-ti-ONG-go) was born into a large peasant family, in the Kiambu district of Kenya in 1938. He was the fifth child of the third of his father's four wives and is of Kikuyu descent. He was baptized James Ngugi, and later became a devout Christian while at missionary school; but around 1967 he rejected his baptismal name, and changed his name to Ngugi wa Thiong'o. His family was caught up in the Mau Mau rebellion (an insurgency by Kenyan freedom fighters against the British colonial administration (1952 - 1960) during which ...

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